Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts

Dear Carrie

How can I help my 2nd grader grow into the amount of writing planned in Bigger Hearts?

My son is in 2nd grade and doing HOD‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory. He loves it all, except the amount of writing. He does poetry copywork every day and sometimes Bible verses. Additionally, he writes within his science notebooking, dictation, and sometimes history activity writing. I switched him to doing Rod and Staff 2 orally because he couldn’t handle the writing. He also does one sheet daily from Abeka’s language arts. All of this together is too much for him. He is overwhelmed, and his handwriting is getting worse. I would say in a day, he does the Abeka sheet and one other area mentioned above. I’ve been doing Rod and Staff 2 with him orally. I placed him in Bigger Hearts, and I think it is the right placement. But, how can I help him grow into the amount of writing he should be doing?


“Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts,”

First of all, take a moment to rejoice that your kiddo is doing well and enjoying Bigger overall. That is a wonderful thing! Next, I just want to encourage you that many kiddos struggle with writing of ANY sort. It is something to grow into, just like learning to read or learning to do math problems.

To reduce the amount of writing, I recommend doing most of Rod and Staff orally.

As far as English, there’s no need to do Abeka in addition to Rod and Staff. So, I’d pick one or the other. Since your little guy doesn’t enjoy writing, I’d choose Rod and Staff, as it is easy to do orally. In the Introduction to Bigger, I actually recommend doing almost all of Rod and Staff orally, and only assigning one small portion to be done in writing each day. So, you’re actually doing Rod and Staff the way we intended by doing it almost all orally!

We rotate assignments to keep the amount of writing in balance each day.

Next, in the daily plans, we actually rotate the writing assignments around, so you’re not doing all of those writing assignments on any one given day. So, make sure you’re following the plans as written, and that will help you not to get overloaded with too much writing.

Try reducing the amount of writing by omitting the optional poetry copywork.

As far as writing activities go, you’ll need to keep the scheduled dictation. However, you can reduce the amount of writing by omitting the poetry copywork. In Bigger Hearts, the poetry copywork is only suggested but not scheduled daily or required. If your little one is doing cursive, then the poetry copywork could be skipped. I know that we didn’t do it with my second son, and it was fine.

Other Suggestions for Lessening the Amount of Writing

That will leave one other writing something each day to be done (either copying a Bible verse, doing a history notebook assignment, doing a science notebook assignment, or doing a science experiment form). With each of those assignments, you can lessen the amount of writing by writing the beginning part of a sentence or even a sentence or two for your son. Then, just have your sweetie finish the rest. You can gradually move up to requiring a little more of it to be written by the student until you eventually work up to full-speed by the end of the year. Make sure not to do more than one vocabulary word either (and you can even do the writing for your student on that one, taking dictation, until he can work up to doing it himself).

Many kiddos need to grow into the amount of writing required, so just ease into it to find success!

Writing will always be an area that takes some growing into for MANY kiddos. No matter what program you use, there will be writing required. Just allow your child to ease into it, gradually moving up as he’s able, and you’ll eventually find success!


P.S. Looking for ideas for going half-speed in Bigger Hearts or in Preparing Hearts with a child for other reasons?  Click here to find some half-speed options with daily language arts and math!

How can I help my highly distracted son focus better?

Dear Carrie

How can I help my highly distracted son focus better?

Let me first say that I LOVE BIGGER!!! This is our first year, and I just love it! Thank you, Carrie!!! Now, here’s my problem. My son is 9, and he is “highly distracted.” I have never discussed this with a doctor. He is not hyperactive. However, he has a terrible time focusing on “seat work,” like Math, English, and Copywork. He will daydream and fiddle constantly. Most days, he has not completed his work by dinner. I do not believe it is an obedience issue. He even has a hard time focusing on his “play.” Oftentimes, he will tell me that he has a “story” in his head while he is playing with Legos, but his brain won’t stay with the story. It keeps wandering. He gets very frustrated when this happens. I definitely think he has a problem. What can I do to help my highly distracted son?


“Ms. Please Help with Ideas for My Highly Distracted Son”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Ideas for My Highly Distracted Son,”

As kiddos get older, they often settle down some, and also learn to cope better with their various areas of strength/weakness. I remember when my oldest son was in 7th grade (aged 12 turning 13), that the change for him from grade 6 to grade 7 was markedly different! While he was highly distracted and always on the move in grade 6, by grade 7 he was steadily improving in this area. So, I’ll encourage you that time is on your side.

I can empathize with you and your highly distracted son having trouble with focus!

My second son is more of a highly distracted child, unless he really gets into his task. Then, he’s a single task child, who cannot be interrupted (or even hear anyone else it would seem)! I have to strive not to repeat myself with him all day long! Focus is his hardest issue! My third son used to fall off the couch during our lessons several times a day, just because he was such a squirmer. So, I can empathize!

We find these things to be quite necessary for highly distracted children to maintain better focus.

Over the years, we have found certain things to be quite necessary for highly distracted children to focus better. First, we keep lessons short, as in 15 minutes or less. Second,  we vary activities between oral and written work. Third, we try to do the most difficult thing first or second in the day. Fourth, we set the timer (one that doesn’t tick out loud) and put it near the child. Fifth, we sit next to the child for his/her hardest subject. Sixth, we have a quiet room for working that is away from distracting sounds (i.e. phones ringing, music playing, computer sounds, television noise, etc.). At our house this ‘quiet room’ rotates to wherever the rest of the people are not. Seventh, we break up the day with recess, lunch, computer time, etc., so their work is not all in a row.

Finally, we find touch can help highly distracted kiddos refocus. For example, if your kiddo is daydreaming, instead of speaking, just walk past him and rub or pat his back. This helped mine refocus and get back to work. I also will sometime walk by and just point to the timer, without speaking, to draw his attention to that as a means of refocusing. Anyway, you are not alone on this, and boys seem to have it even more than girls. Almost all of the boys in my third/fourth grade public school classrooms were this way too! I wrote the Heart of Dakota guides while homeschooling some of my own highly distracted kiddos, so hopefully the design of the plans will be a help as well!


Practical Ideas to Help an 8 Year-Old Focus Better

Dear Carrie

How can I help my son maintain better focus during history and science readings?

We just finished our first week of Heart of Dakota. I have a son who is eight using Bigger Hearts. He’s really enjoying the curriculum and doing well. However, he is having a hard time getting the science and history readings to sink in. Do you have suggestions on how to help him keep his focus/attention? Especially while I read to him? He has a tough time trying to narrate back to me. Someone suggested letting him move about the room while I read, or buy some special wiggly seat for him to sit on. I tried having him move around the room. It was a disaster. The readings are so interesting! I’M totally into them. I just can’t figure out how to get HIM to focus. Do you have some practical ideas to help him, that don’t involve buying a special cushion?


“Ms. Please Help with Practical Ideas for My 8 Year-Old to Focus Better”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Practical Ideas for My 8 Year-Old to Focus Better,”

One thing to keep in mind is that the readings that are within Bigger Hearts are definitely challenging and include a very high-level vocabulary. This makes them a step up from the readings within Beyond. It takes time to grow into the skills required to listen to, process, and narrate upon more difficult readings. So, time spent reading more difficult material will definitely help a child grow into these skills. It is a process that takes time.

Have your child sit next to you and follow along as you read.

Next, it is usually true that seeing and hearing what is read will result in better retention than simply hearing what is read. So, it is a good idea to have your child sit next to you and follow along with the text while you read. I keep my wiggly boys close to me on the couch and keep my arm around them, having them help me hold the book as I read. This keeps them anchored next to me and keeps their minds focused on the words on the page.

Having your son narrate on shorter segments will help, but be careful not to stop to explain, summarize, or reread the text.

Stopping after several paragraphs to have your child give a brief narration, and then continuing right on, is another strategy that will help. Also, be sure that you are not stopping to explain difficult words, summarize the reading, or reread the text, as this actually interrupts the flow of the story in a child’s mind. Instead, we want to work toward training your child in the habit of listening and retelling from a single reading.

For many children, movement during reading interferes with the habit of retention.

While it is true that kiddos with certain disabilities listen and retain better when they are in motion, this is not true for most children. For many children, movement during reading interferes with the habit of attention and instead focuses and practices the habit of multi-tasking. Kids today often multi-task very well, but multi-tasking often means not giving your full attention to a single task but rather giving partial attention to a variety of tasks at once.

We are looking to form the habit of giving full attention to a single task, within the process of listening and narrating.

With narration and listening, we are looking to form the habit of giving a child’s full attention to a single task. To do this, the child often needs to be still, focusing all his/her attention on the reading and subsequent retelling. This is why it is so important to keep the readings short and the follow-up short too. This allows the child to give his/her full concentration to the task at hand, without requiring an unreasonable amount of time to be spent in this focused concentration.

You will see this skill slowly develop as time passes.

As time passes, I think you will be surprised at the progress your child will make in this area if you simply do the plans as written, requiring the child to focus/concentrate from a single reading. The skill will slowly develop through the years.



What are the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration?

Dear Carrie

What are the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration?

My hubby asked me to define the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration. When I tried to answer him, I found myself trailing off rather lamely. I realized I don’t really know the answer myself. I do know it helps children think about the information and how to present it. Children also learn to pay more careful attention, since they know they are required to retell back. However, I haven’t read much of Charlotte Mason’s books. I don’t feel like I’m fully educated on the concept. When I read that great thread a while back with examples of your sons’ and Julie’s sons’ narrations, I know it was obvious the boys were very articulate and intelligent. But I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is or how to define it. Could you please share an “in a nutshell” explanation of the rationale behind narration? Thanks!

“Ms. Please Share the Benefits of the Charlotte Mason Philosophy of Narration”

Dear “Ms. Please Share the Benefits of the Charlotte Mason Philosophy of Narration,”

This is such an important question! I know the benefits of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of narration have been discussed at length on the Heart of Dakota message board. However, I’ll try to summarize it in one place. I hope seeing these benefits in one place will be a help to others too!

The Benefits of Narration, As Described in the Appendix of Bigger Hearts

In the Appendix of the guides from Bigger Hearts on up, we include a Teacher’s List and a Student’s List for Oral Narration Tips. These are basically steps describing how to do an oral narration. At the beginning of our oral narration tips list, it describes the following benefits:

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. It allows them to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality.

Narrating is an essential skill in life. To be able to give an opinion of a book, relay a telephone message, summarize a letter, give driving directions, write an article, or share a doctor’s instructions – are all examples of practical applications of narration skills. Narrating is an important skill to learn. You can begin to teach your children to narrate by following the steps listed below. Just be patient, and have fun with it! Narration is a way of life.

Step-by-step Guidance to Help Learn This Skill

Then, the Appendices of our guides from Bigger Hearts on up give step-by-step guidance for both parent and child on how to go about learning this important skill. Many keys to narration are shared throughout the teacher’s list. So, please be sure to read those! They should be a great help!

Charlotte Mason Quotes That More Fully Explain the Philosophy of Narration

Things that we read only become knowledge as we assimilate it, as our mind acts upon it. We must read with the specific intention to know the matter being read. We can read without that effort but it does us no good. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 12-13)

To secure a conversation or an incident, we ‘go over it in our minds;’ that is the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning… This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself, – ‘What next?’ For this reason it is important that only one reading be allowed; efforts to memorize weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after, and not before, or during, the act of narration. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 17)

Charlotte Mason Quotes That More Fully Explain the Benefits of Narration

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the ‘act of knowing’. We are all aware, alas, what a monstrous quantity of printed matter has gone into the dustbin of our memories, because we have failed to perform that quite natural and spontaneous ‘act of knowing,’ as easy to a child as breathing and, if we would believe it, comparatively easy to ourselves. The reward is two-fold: no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hallmark of an educated person. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 99)

Education which demands a ‘conscious mental effort’, from the scholar, the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 159-160)

The Benefits of ‘Mind Memory’ Instead of ‘Word Memory’

Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and that which he cannot tell, he does not know… Now a passage to be memorized requires much conning, much repetition, and meanwhile the learners are ‘thinking’ about other matters, that is the mind is not at work in the act of memorizing. To read a passage with full attention and to tell it afterwards has a curiously different effect…

…the happy distinction between word memory and mind memory, which, once the force of it is realized, should bring about sweeping changes in our methods of education. Trusting to mind memory, we visualize the scene, are convinced by arguments, take pleasure in the turn of sentences and frame our own upon them: in fact that particular passage or chapter has been received into us and become a part of us just as literally as was yesterday’s dinner… (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 172)

The Benefits of Written Narration (taken from RTR’s Appendix)

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. Narration allows them to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality. Oral narration is considered the earliest form of composition, and the words “narration” and “composition” may be used interchangeably. Children under age 9 take care of their composition instruction by orally narrating, and by intertwining these narrations with history, science, reading, and the like.

The Benefit of Trusting the Child and the Author to Be “Left Alone Together” Without Interruptions (taken from RTR’s Appendix)

By age 10, children’s oral composition skills should be developed enough to begin written compositions. According to Charlotte Mason, composition in the form of written narration is “as natural as running and jumping to children who have been allowed to read lots of books.” If they orally narrate first of all, the benefit is they will compose sooner or later, but they should not be taught “composition” as a separate body of information to be learned. Instead, it is important that the child and the author be trusted to be left alone together, without a middle-man such as a teacher telling the child what the book said, or about what to think. According to Charlotte Mason, our business as teachers is to “provide children the material for their lessons, while leaving the handling of that material to themselves”. In short, we are not to hamper them by too many instructions.

Reading living books and narrating from them helps children develop their own literary style.

Children who have gotten into the habit of reading good literature absorb what they will from it themselves, in their own way, whether it’s a lot or a little. Reading living books and narrating from them helps children to begin to form their own literary style. Because they have been in the company of great minds, their style will not be an exact copy of any one in particular, but will instead be shaped as an individual style from the wealth of materials they possess to create a natural style of their own.

Narration encourages self-expression and invites a child’s personality to become part of the learning process.

Narration done properly develops the power of self-expression and invites a child’s personality to become part of the learning process. A child should choose vocabulary he finds appealing, make it his own, and then give it forth again with that own unique touch that comes from his own mind. This is why no two narrations should be exactly alike, and it is also why teachers should not expect their children to give the same narration they would have given.

Another benefit of narration is it requires higher level thinking.

Narrating requires a higher level of thinking, which is yet another benefit. Consider the skill it takes to fill in blanks or choose from multiple-choice answers. Now, consider the skills it takes to retell a story you have just heard or read! Clearly the latter proves to require higher-level thinking. In order to demonstrate the complex skill of narrating, try your hand at it yourself. Now that you’ve read most of this page, turn it over and get a sheet of paper to write all that you can remember, or would you find it easier if you were given multiple-choice questions instead?

With narration, you’ve found the key to truly knowing what your children know.

Narration provides far more information about children’s comprehension because they must answer without the support clues provided by questions. The quiz, test, chapter review, and book report have all been replaced by something far more effective. What children take time to put in their own words is retained because it has become their own. With narration, you’ve just found the key to really knowing what your children know. This is why, even after children have become skilled at writing narrations, oral narrations are still continued. Maintaining oral narrations keeps improving both a child’s composing ability and his public speaking skills. There is simply not a better way to “test” a child’s comprehension and retention than oral and written narration!

Last, here are a few gems from Charlotte Mason on the benefits of written narrations.

Children in this Form (Ages 9-12) have a wider range of reading, a more fertile field of thought, and more delightful subjects for composition. They write their little essays themselves (referring to written narration), and for the accuracy of their knowledge and justice of their expression, why ‘still the wonder grows’. They’ll describe their favorite scene from “The Tempest” or “Woodstock”. They write to ‘tell’ stories from work set in Plutarch or Shakespeare or tell of the events of the day. They narrate from English, French, and General History, from the Old and New Testament, from “Stories from the History of Rome”, from Bullfinch’s “Age of Fable”, from, for example, Goldsmith’s or Wordsworth’s poems, from “The Heroe’s of Asgard”: in fact, Composition is not an adjunct but an integral part of their education in every subject. (Vol. 6, p. 192)

Having been brought up so far upon stylists the pupils are almost certain to have formed a good style: because they have been thrown into the society of many great minds, the will not make a servile copy of any one but will shape an individual style out of the wealth of material they possess; and because they have matter in abundance and of the best they will not write mere verbiage. (Vol 6, p. 194)

This is just a glimpse into the wonderful benefits of oral and written narration.   There is much more I could share on the subject, but this whets the appetite for more knowledge on the method, and if you’re anything like me, convicts the reader of the beauty, simplicity, and life-long effects of developing the habit and skill of narration.


Children Independently Reading and Parents Prereading Materials

Dear Carrie

What is the philosophy behind the increase in children independently reading, and will I then have to preread the materials?

This is my first year homeschooling, and my oldest is using Little Hearts for His Glory (which we love)! Now I am trying to research the future years in Heart of Dakota. I wanted to ask about the philosophy behind the increasingly independent work. By high school, I know working independently will be a necessary skill. I can see it is good to work towards that. However, which parts are independent? And how do I stay involved in those parts? I guess I just want to be reassured about this road to independence. One follow-up question I have is, do you then preread/preview the books they are reading independently? Prereading seems like a daunting task. I guess until I am comfortable with not reading the content, we may need to read it together for awhile. How have you handled this? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Explain Independently Reading and Whether I Have to Preread Materials”

Dear “Ms. Please Explain Independently Reading and Whether I Have to Preread Materials,”

I remember feeling the way that you do when my oldest son was as young as your oldest kiddos. When my children were young, I did preread everything that they read. As they grew older, and became avid readers, it became nearly impossible for me to preread everything before my kiddos read it. I then realized I had to begin relying more on booklists and publishers that I trusted.

Around third grade is when kiddos begin to prefer to read their material independently to themselves.

Around third grade is usually the point at which this begins. This is when your kiddos really begin to out-read you on a daily basis. This is also, hopefully, the time when they have found great joy in reading and no longer want to be made to read aloud to you. Instead, they begin to prefer to read their material silently to themselves around this same age (as Charlotte Mason so wisely mentioned – around age 9). Moving toward independence is honestly a stage in reading. It is one that comes after the child has emerged as a reader and is a joy to behold!

Our goal is to train children to read their own books independently with moral discernment.

At Heart of Dakota (HOD), our goal is train children to learn to read their own books but to read them independently with moral discernment. This is a goal that is necessary lifelong, as we know as parents we will not always be with our children as they choose what to read, and our children will need to grow in discerning for themselves how what they are reading is lining up with the standards God sets forth in His Word. Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHR) is based upon this. This is also why we wrote DITHR to work with any books. So, this leaves you in the driver’s seat in this important area, if you are wanting to be there. Otherwise, we have done our best to choose our favorite books within our DITHR book packs.

Details Regarding Parents Reading Aloud Through Creation to Christ

At HOD, we do read aloud the history spines to our children all the way through Preparing Hearts. We read aloud all of the science material in the guides up through Bigger Hearts. Each of our guides to follow continue to have many areas of interaction for both parent and child. For example, in Creation to Christ we are able to do a thorough Genesis study and a Geography Study of the Bible Lands (along with still teaching math, grammar, DITHR, dictation, Write with the Best, and reading aloud Storytime). We see or hear about every other part of the guide, through the kiddos’ notebooks and narrations.

Details Regarding Parents Reading Aloud Through Revival to Revolution

In RTR, we are able to spend time doing a purity study, study higher level poetry like Emily Dickinson’s, and do picture study (along with still teaching math, grammar, DITHR, dictation, Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, and reading aloud Storytime). In the Revival to Revolution, we do a worldview study Who Is God? and also do a composer study (along with still teaching math, grammar, DITHR, dictation, The Wonderful World of Creative Writing, and reading aloud Storytime). We continue to see or hear about every part of each guide through the daily assignments. I could continue, but in these listings, you can see that at HOD we hold back a variety of important things for our interactions between parent and child and allow the child to do the parts independently on their own that they are ready and trained to do well.

We train our children to read well but also to love what they are reading and to discern how it fits with God’s Word.

Imagine that on top of all the things I’ve shared above that you were still reading aloud all of the history and science each day and guiding every activity. Would you truly have time to get done the wonderful studies that I’ve mentioned above? Or, would they quickly fall by the wayside in the overburdening of being the sole reader and the sole purveyor of information? It is evident that God desired for our children to read for themselves, or He would not have written His Book to our children and to us. Understanding and making sense of the written word is an integral part of education. This is why through HOD, we train our children to read well independently and to comprehend what they are reading, but also to love what they are reading and discern how it fits with God’s Word.

Encouraging Children to Gradually Move Forward in Their Reading Independently

After our children have had years of very focused teaching attention, they are ready to move forward a bit more on their own independently, and we encourage this growth. This happens very gradually about the time of Preparing Hearts, but only in two subject areas (both of which are quite short)! In the guides which follow Preparing Hearts, I cannot imagine my older boys (6th and 9th grade) waiting on me every day to read their material to them, nor of me reading aloud the same history and science material to all of my children (from aged 15 down to 4).

Our children have a thirst for their school books, and they do not need me to get in between them and their school material.

While I do truly love reading aloud everything to my 4 year old and 2nd grader right now, they still need me to do it! But, there is so much difference in my children’s maturity at their various ages (and will likely be for your kiddos too), so there should be a difference in what I expect from them. It’s so important to recognize that difference and to award children with independence accordingly. Right now, all of my boys love books, and my older three boys read avidly independently. I am glad they out-read me! They have a thirst for their school books that I never had, and they do not need me to get in between them and their school material (as CM would say). Instead, it is our desire for them to develop their own relationship with the reading.

Our goal is to incrementally train children how to learn independently, so they become lifelong learners.

I do preread the books we use in our guides very carefully, and I write the key ideas to give parents a great look into what is being read too. The narrations both oral and written are another window into the readings, and I always have the book in hand when my child is narrating to skim over. Since you are the parent, you can be as involved as you choose to be. It is your children’s education. Our goal is not to “hand off” the child’s education to them, but rather to incrementally train them how to learn so that they become lifelong learners.

In Closing

In closing, I leave you with this thought to ponder: If our children, as they mature, see their schoolbooks as only being mine to read to them, when will they ever make the leap into learning for their own sake? I agree that it is a new stage in the child’s learning, but one that is important to take or the child’s learning will forever be dependent on us.


P.S. Carrie’s children were ages 4 to 15 years old at the time of her answering this question, so this is a vintage ‘Dear Carrie’ response!